Chinese exonyms

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When a foreign placename occurs in Chinese text, the problem arises of spelling it in Chinese characters, given the limited phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, and the possible meaning of those characters when treated as Chinese words. For example:

  • "London Heathrow Airport" is usually rendered in Chinese text as 倫敦希斯路機場 (Lúndūn Xīsīlù Jīchǎng), with the English pronunciation of 'London' fairly accurate, and of 'Heathrow' less accurate: literally as Chinese this means "kinship, honest" (for London), "hope/rare, given/this, road" (for Heathrow), "aircraft, field", with the last syllable of "Heathrow" rendered as "lu" although the more accurate "lo" and "lou" are known Chinese words. However, the Cantonese pronunciation of 希斯路 (Hei1si1lou6) is much closer to "Heathrow".

Names of foreign nations are sometimes shortened to their first character when used in compounds.

For placenames in Korea or Japan, the Chinese exonym is often the Chinese pronunciation of the hanja or kanji writing of the placename. In some cases, especially in Japan, the Chinese pronunciation may be completely unlike the native-language pronunciation.

Places[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Meaning as Chinese Notes
California 加州 Jiāzhōu addition, province contraction from 加利福尼亞州, Cantonese Gaa3lei6fuk1nei4aa3, Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Jiālìfúníyǎ zhōu
Hiroshima (広島) 廣島 Guǎngdǎo Broad Island in Japan
Hong Kong 香港 Xiānggǎng perfume/incense, harbour "Hong Kong" is from Cantonese Hoeng1gong2.
Liverpool 利物浦 Lìwùpǔ profit, thing, beach
Los Angeles 洛杉矶 Luòshānjī Luo River, Cunninghamia, levee/jetty
Osaka (大阪) 大坂 Dàbǎn Big Hillside in Japan
Phoenix 鳳凰城 Fènghuángchéng Fenghuang City the fenghuang is analogous to the Greek phoenix, but only superficially
San Francisco 旧金山 Jiùjīnshān Old Gold Mountain renamed by Chinese immigrants
São Paulo 聖保羅 Shèngbǎoluó St. Paul
Seoul 首爾 Shǒu'ěr leader, you/thou Seoul (Korean 서울) had no official hanja until 2005, until which 漢城 (Chinese Hànchéng, Korean Hanseong) was widely used. Hanseong was its name during the Joseon era until 1907, although Seoul has been in use since c.1882. 漢城 is still used, both in Chinese, as a transcription for Seoul, and Korean, as an unofficial transcription and as a separate toponym.
Toronto 多伦多 Duōlúnduō many, relations, many
Tokyo (東京) 東京 Dōngjīng East(ern) Capital in Japan
Vancouver 温哥华 Wēngēhuá warm, (elder) brother, magnificent/China

Nations and regions[edit]

Native name Chinese Pinyin Meaning as Chinese Notes
Canada 加拿大 Jiānádà add, lift, big 加 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Canada"/"Canadian".
France 法国 Fǎguó law/rules, land 法 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "France"/"French".
Germany 德国 Déguó moral, land
Iceland 冰島 Bīngdǎo ice, island
Italy 意大利 Yìdàlì intention, big, profit 意 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Italy"/"Italian".
Japan (日本) 日本 Rìběn sun, origin as Japan is east of China.
Nepal 尼泊尔 Níbó'ěr Buddhist monk, mooring, you 尼 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Nepal(ese)".
Spain 西班牙 Xībānyá west, team, tooth/teeth
United Kingdom 英国 Yīngguó outstanding, land 英 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "Britain"/"British"/"England"/"English".
United States 美国 Měiguó beautiful, land 美 alone is sometimes used in compound words to mean "America(n)".
Vietnam 越南 Yuènán Yue, south